Amid tension, Moscow deploys naval fleets, conducts missile drills near border
The Russian military announced Thursday it was conducting drills involving state-of-the art missiles near the nation's western border, one day after NATO warned Vladimir Putin's regime had launched its largest naval deployment since the Cold War.
Russia's entire Northern Fleet and some of its Baltic Fleet were preparing to engage in a final bombardment of Syria's war-torn city of Aleppo, Western intelligence sources told the U.K. Telegraph. The assault on Syrian rebels was set to begin in about two weeks, in the run-up to Election Day in the U.S., the newspaper reported.
Russia and U.S. relations have been a major focal point of the presidential campaigns. In Wednesday night’s debate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton blamed Moscow for its alleged role in releasing emails to Wikileaks.
“We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election,” she said.
Republican nominee Donald Trump said there was no proof Moscow was behind the leaks. He said a world where Washington and Moscow worked together could help in the fight against terrorism.
Moscow has complained strongly against the deployment of NATO's forces near Russia's borders and promised to take countermeasures.
Russia's Defense Ministry said Thursday its drills involved Iskander-M missiles. The war games were held at a shooting range near the city of Luga, about 60 miles east of the border with Estonia.
According to the military, the exercise featured the deployment of missiles and preparations for firing them, but didn't involve actual launches.
Iskander has a range of up to 310 miles and high precision, allowing it to target facilities in several NATO member nations neighboring Russia.
Moscow and Syria moved ahead unilaterally with evacuation arrangements in Aleppo without making any promises for an extended cease-fire or self-administration, although Russian President Vladimir Putin has held out the hope of an indefinite halt to his country's airstrikes after meeting with the French and German leaders, who condemned Moscow's actions in the Syrian city.
A U.N. aid official for Syria said Russia agreed to extend daily pauses in military action against eastern Aleppo for four more days. Jan Egeland has told The Associated Press that the U.N. on Thursday received verbal assurances for the extension by a day, from three days previously, both from Russia's diplomatic mission in Geneva and in writing from Russian military officials in Syria.
"We informed them of our intention to continue, as much as possible, considering the situation on Syrian territory, a pause in the air strikes. We are ready to do this for as long as there are no clashes with rebel formations entrenched in Aleppo," Putin said after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Berlin.
The Associated Press contributed to this report